Guest Post: The Tudor Court on Progress

I’m delighted to be hosting Day 5 of the In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn Virtual Book Tour with this guest post from Natalie and Sarah! Amberley Publishing is kindly giving away two copies of the book at each blog on the tour, so I’ve done another survey – a short one this time! – to collect entries for the drawing. Click here to take the survey and leave your email address if you wish to be entered in the drawing. (You can take the survey and just leave the email address field blank if you don’t wish to be entered in the give-away.) You’ll be directed back to the blog once you’ve finished the survey. I’ll close the survey and choose the winners at noon US central time on Friday December 13th.

And now, over to Natalie and Sarah!

The Tudor Court on Progress

In the 21st century, celebrities, politicians and even royalty are more accessible than ever. Not only can you can watch them on television and read about them online and in newspapers and magazines, you can also follow their personal accounts and interact with them on social media sites, including Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, with many high-profile people also opting to share personal videos and photos with the public via sites such as Instagram, Flickr and YouTube.

Even the British Monarchy use social media as a way of connecting with the public, and sharing Royal news and events — their official Facebook page boasts close to one million ‘likes’, their Twitter page over 600,000 followers and their YouTube Channel has over 124,000 subscribers.

Things were, of course, very different for royalty five hundred years ago… If a Tudor king or queen wanted to show themselves to the people and connect with their subjects throughout the kingdom, they needed to travel, and travel they did, moving regularly, whether for political reasons, to hunt, for pleasure or necessity.

The court moved around as part of the summer progresses, however, they also travelled during the winter months between royal houses in the Thames valley. Today, our focus is on the former during the reign of Henry VIII.

Each year, in around June, the king’s travel itinerary would be published along with the names of those who would be accompanying the king over the summer months or ‘grass season’, which was generally between August and October when the hay was cut and the hunting optimal.

This eagerly-awaited list was called the ‘giest’. It detailed exactly where the king intended to stay and for how long, it also recorded how many miles he would travel between stops. The distance travelled per day varied. During the 1535 summer progress, the court travelled between six and fourteen miles in a day, whereas the average for the 1528 progress was nine miles. The court usually travelled by horse, although, on occasions, they combined this with travel by river.

Despite owning a number of grand houses, the king enjoyed staying with courtiers and noblemen while on progress and, like his father Henry VII, also regularly stayed at monastic houses. In 1510 the court stayed at ten monasteries during the summer, and in July 1535, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at Reading Abbey, a favourite of the king’s, Abingdon Abbey and Tewkesbury Abbey, while Winchcombe Abbey accommodated the majority of the court while Henry, Anne and their immediate retinue were lodged at nearby Sudeley Castle.

Sudeley Castle

The length of stay depended on many factors, including the size, convenience and splendour of the residence, and its proximity to good hunting ground, and varied in length from a fleeting overnighter to fifteen days. A lack of space meant that Henry usually only stayed for a few days with courtiers and noblemen, reserving the longer visits for the larger ecclesiastical palaces, religious houses or royal properties.

In the 1520s there were only six royal residences that could comfortably accommodate the full court, which numbered, during the wintertime, approximately 1,500 people—these were Woodstock, Palace of Beaulieu, Richmond, Hampton Court (not officially Henry’s until around 1529) and Eltham. The court appears to have halved in size during the summer progresses, numbering around 750, although this varied greatly depending on whether the king’s wife and children, along with their households, accompanied the progress or not.

Hosting the king and his court was a great honour and was certainly a sign of royal favour but it was also a huge expense, as not only did you have to accommodate your own household, but you also had to house and entertain the king and queen and their entourage. Often, large sums were spent preparing for the royal visit, as the royal apartments had to be in good reparation and luxuriously furnished. Nicholas Poyntz went one step further, he didn’t just refurbish pre-existing apartments, he built an entire new wing in anticipation of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s visit in August 1535, he also commissioned sets of Italian and Spanish ceramic plates and fine Venetian glass vessels with which to impress his sovereigns and all for a visit which lasted just two days!

There was also the matter of a grand reception to consider… Regardless of whether the host was an Abbot, nobleman, courtier or city corporation, the king and his royal guests were always received with great pomp and ceremony.

The mayor and other local dignitaries would receive the royal party outside of town, where they would merge and ride in procession to the cathedral or principal church. The reception might also include pageants, although this was usually reserved for entries of particular importance, like when Charles V entered London in 1522. The royal party would then make an offering at the church before being escorted to their accommodation, where gifts were exchanged.

Hampton Court Palace

The giests detailed where the king intended on staying during his summer progress, however, there were many factors that could alter the original itinerary, including weather, food shortages and the outbreak of disease. In 1535, Henry and Anne intended on travelling through the West Country to Bristol, before returning to Windsor, however, an outbreak of the plague in the city forced them to abandon their plans. Instead, they remained at Thornbury Castle, where a delegation of townsmen from Bristol came to pay their respects and present them with gifts.

Disease was not the only influence on the court’s itinerary; the king’s will also played a major part. In 1535, the royal couple were so delighted with the hunting and hawking in Hampshire that they delayed their return by almost a month and new giests were prepared.

Moving the court from place to place was a huge undertaking. Royal officers left ahead of the royal entourage and ensured that there was accommodation and provisions for the entire party. The Clerk of the Market rode out before the king ‘to warn the peple to bake, to brewe, and to make redy othyr vytayle and stuff in to theire logginges.’ The royal officers, also pre-arranged accommodation for members of the court at local inns and private houses in the area.

Although many of the larger houses had basic furniture and a skeleton staff, the king and queen’s personal belongings, including plate, bed, tapestries and clothes travelled with them. The officers of the Wardrobe were primarily in charge of packing and of transporting the goods by cart, mule or boat (a process known as ‘removing’) and the Grooms of the Chamber or Privy Chamber were responsible for setting up and furnishing the royal lodgings at each new destination.

However laborious the process of moving the court was, from the beginning of his reign, Henry VIII understood the importance of getting out amongst his people and of allowing his subjects to see him in the flesh.

And what an impressive sight it must have been – the king and queen on horseback, resplendent in their riding clothes, followed by their vast and eye-catching retinue.

What I’d give to catch a glimpse of them now!

About the Authors:

Dr Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger co-authors of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, published in September 2013. In the Footsteps is a guide book to all the places and artefacts associated with one of England’s most compelling and controversial queens.

Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, living in Australia with her husband and two children. She graduated from The University of NSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in English and Spanish and Latin American Studies and received her Bachelor of Teaching from The University of Sydney in 2006. Natalie has been working in public education for the last seven years and is passionate about making learning engaging and accessible for all children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII’s second wife. To find out more about Natalie’s research and writing visit:

Sarah is also the author of Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn, Volumes I and II. Le Temps Viendra is a fictional biography telling the story of Anne’s innocence through the eyes of a modern day woman, drawn back in time, to find herself in the body of her historical heroine as Anne Boleyn’s dramatic story unfolds from triumph to disaster and its final, heart-wrenching conclusion on the scaffold. Volume I was published in 2012, with Volume II due out before the end of 2013. To find out more about Sarah’s research and writing visit:

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